Thailand prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered to step down after 'abusing power'

Asia Correspondent

Thailand has been plunged into fresh turmoil after a court ordered that the country’s prime minister and nine of her top ministers stand down.

The country’s Constitutional Court found Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of abusing her position when she ordered the transfer of a civil servant for political gain and thereby breaching the constitution. The order had immediate effect, but the court said the remainder of her government could remain in place in a caretaker role until elections go ahead on July 20.

Ms Yingluck, the brother of Thaksin Shinawatra, was replaced as premier by the trade minister, Niwatthamrung Boonsongpaisan, a man considered loyal to Pheu Thai party and to Mr Shinawatra and his sister.

 

But the decision by the court, long seen as unsympathetic to the Thaksin family, does nothing to end the political crisis that has beset Thailand since Mr Thaksin was ousted in a coup in 2006. Since then, two other administrations led by politicians loyal to him have been scuttled by the Constitutional Court.

“Transferring government officials must be done in accordance with moral principle,” the court said in its ruling, according to the Associated Press. “Transferring with a hidden agenda is not acceptable.”

The decision by the court follows months of protests by anti-government campaigners who have sought to oust Mr Yingluck and her administration. When she last year agreed to stand down and hold a new election, the main opposition party announced it was boycotting the election, rendering it essentially meaningless.

Ms Yingluck and her brother have strong support from large swathes of so-called “Red Shirts” mainly located in Thailand’s north and north east and other rural areas. They also have support among working class elements within Bangkok.

Those opposed to the Thaksins include Bangkok’s upper middle-class, elements within the army, farmers from the south of Thailand and elements of the establishment that surrounds the Thai royal family.

“What is interesting about the current [development] is the bloodless, legal nature of the approach - using the legal process to take what the coup couldn’t secure, and the polls couldn't guarantee,” said Dr Liam McCarthy, an expert on South East Asia at Nottingham Trent University.

“How such a bureaucratic, or intellectual, tactic will play with the rural communities of Thailand? They may see such a play as tricking them out of their chosen leaders.”

The unanimous decision by the court, a day after Ms Yingluck appeared before it to give evidence, raises the prospect of more turmoil for Thailand, where scores of people have died as a result of political violence, and uncertainty as to whether the election on July 20 will proceed.

Supporters of Mr Thaksin and his sister are planning to hold a major rally on Saturday. At least 20 people have been killed since November and hundreds more injured.

Mr Thaksin’s opponents say he is guilty of corruption and that he took decisions that directly helped him and his family. Mr Thaksin is living in exile in Dubai to avoid court charges and a plan by the government to introduce an amnesty that wold have allowed him to return was the spark for the most recent protests.

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